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Aww Hail (or, How to Use the Singaporean Bus System)

22 January 2011

As we are without a car here on our little island, we have taken to using the public transportation system with vigor. While the subway / light rail system has the El beat on every front, the bus system—touted to be a marvel of ease and modernity—is a bit less than advertised, and certainly not friendly to your average out-of-towner.

The challenges begin before you even reach at the stop, as you generally have to cross several lanes of traffic, all of which is going the wrong way (they drive on the left here…fascists) and at high speeds. And they don’t take too kindly to pedestrians either, even in crosswalks.

Once at the stop, the onus is on you as the traveler to flag down the appropriate bus, as it won’t stop, slow down, or even get in the near lane unless you signal the driver, even if it is a one-route stop.

Side note: We had a mishap earlier in the week when Al was attempting to flag the bus to school: Seeing her bus approaching, she managed to get the driver’s attention, and he signaled, appearing to pull into the bus lane. As she turned to say goodbye to me, however, the bus instead blew through the stop and sped away, much to the enjoyment of the elderly couple sitting at the stop. Apparently, the driver wasn’t convinced that Al was indeed serious about boarding. We now make a concerted effort to attract the bus driver’s attention, which usually ends up with us in a manic sweat and leaves the other travelers at the stop trembling with fear and confusion. We get on the bus every time now, though.

At any rate, assuming you’ve flagged the right bus and managed to get the driver to actually stop, you now enter Phase Two of your journey: figuring out where to get off (and Real Madrid help you if you need to transfer). This is an inordinate challenge because:
a) most buses do not have any indication of what stop you’re approaching (some have an LED crawler reading off the stops, most don’t)
b) the stops do not have any indication of their name that’s visible from the road
c) should the bus have an LED crawler, the stops are named by proximate landmarks versus more concrete things like intersections or cross streets—ya know, something you could figure out from the bus window (examples: “Next to the Shell Station” or “Opposite the LRT” or “Just Before Golden Monument”. These names not only require you to know what the hell the LRT is, and where and what the Golden Monument is (it’s a shopping center next to the Raffles Hospital on North Bridge Road), but it begs the question: what happens if the Shell becomes a BP?). Additionally, these names are not consistent across the various mapping and routing sites you can use to plot your journey. The LRT stop? Sometimes it’s referred to as Little India Station.


The combination of these factors leads to a confusing trip, ultimately forcing the traveler to count stops. This method works great until you get to 10, then you undoubtedly start losing count. Which we have done. As a result, we’ve ended up a couple stops short, and because we don’t know which way the bus route continues (there’s no route map), we end up walking for about 45 minutes until we happen to find the bar in question.

Hooray. We have reached the promised land.

I won’t even get into the routes that skip stops…

Moral of the story: take a cab.


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